By Don Heckman
One of the unlikely words that came to mind Wednesday night while hearing Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall was “playful.” That, plus “groove-driven,” “entertaining” and a few more.
Why unlikely? Not because those qualities haven’t always been present in what was originally called the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio. But they’ve usually been there as support, contrast and ornamentation to deeper musical excursions. Over the course of two and half decades together, in both live performances and recordings Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette have rarely devoted a majority of their program to music that emphasized entertainment value over creative density.
That said, if Jarrett and company’s goal for this particular event was to delight an audience with familiar tunes, briskly swinging improvisations and a few lyrical ballads, while also displaying some of the leader’s predictable and engaging on-stage eccentricity, one can only say that they succeeded admirably.
Among the more musically appealing aspects of the program were the pieces — ”Green Dolphin Street,” “When I Fall In Love” and “Autumn Leaves” to name a few — which began in deconstructed fashion, eventually evolving through imaginative soloing into something resembling their original shapes.
Other works reached in unlikely directions: a surprisingly dynamic rendering of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” featuring Jarrett’s fleet, seemingly non-stop lines over a surging Latin rhythm; an equally out-of-the-blue version of “Answer Me, Oh My Love,” the Nat Cole hit from the ‘50s, delivered with sweet lyricism and an extended bass solo from Peacock.
From the groove perspective, the first set included a pair of blues, the second added “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” all of which triggered some uncomplicated, irresistibly swinging playing from the entire trio.
Predictably, the capacity audience appeared to love every minute. So much so that they continually intruded on transitions with loud applause, and cut through each quiet ending with raucous shouts of approval. None of which seemed to bother the usually flappable Jarrett.
And then there was “My Funny Valentine,” one of the highlights of the performance. Amid everything else that was happening, it was one of the few pieces that recalled the rich, musically exploratory qualities most associated with the Jarrett, Peacock, DeJohnette trio. Capturing the melodic heart of the song, illuminating it with phrasing and improvisatory passages calling up the subtle musical intimacy of Chopin, it was a compelling affirmation of the deep inspiration that is always present in the work of this gifted trio of players.
Even when they’re being entertainingly playful.
Performance photo by Sven Thielmann. Photos courtesy UCLA Live and ECM Records.